By Julie Wight

Lockdown restrictions surrounding Covid-19 are having a major effect on all agricultural businesses with some affected more than others. The Clyde Vet Group has mixed views on the impact of the disease.

The group boasts three strings to its’ bow – with dedicated farm, small animals and equine divisions – and is based at four practices throughout Scotland – Lanark, Wishaw, Lesmahagow and Stirling.

“Spring is the busiest time of year for our farm practice and we need to be able to provide a service for our key workers in the agriculture sector,” said Charles Marwood, farm director who is based at Lanark.

“It is important that we support them as much as we can in these unknown times, but animal welfare is also our No.1 priority – it is not something we can just forget.”

Clyde Vets is continuing to provide a 24-hour farm animal service, seven days a week to ensure there is always someone available when needed. They are also still running a team of 14 dedicated farm only vets, with one on furlough and another returning to work after self-isolating.

“Despite most of our farm work going ahead, there is some routine work that has been postponed such as health scheme blood testing. At the end of the day everyone needs a vet, so it is important we remain strong as a team,” said Charles.

The group is also taking additional biosecurity precautions prior to going on and off farms to reduce the spread of Covid-19 thereby ensuring the safety of individual vets and those on farm. Vets are social distancing when on farm and are provided with protective equipment to help keep them safe and well.

Providing the necessary services and medicines is a priority for all at Clyde Vets at present, too.

“We work alongside Vet Partners, as our business partner, to source our supplies and vaccines through wholesalers and in the current situation we have been able to continue supplies as much as possible.

“Some medicines supply chains have been affected but farmers seem understanding of this. We have also started a medicine delivery service to avoid clients needing to travel to the practice. This service has been greatly received by farmers” said Charles.

It’s not all good news though as while Clyde Vets is doing its best to continue business as normal, the equine and small animal practices have been hit more.

The small animal practice is only working from the Lanark branch now with the Wishaw and Lesmahagow practices closed. Five small animal vets are also on furlough now that the team is only taking on emergency work.

Hans Lambert, small animal director based at Lanark commented: “Initially we were split into two teams but that soon changed to just one in Lanark, so it has been very challenging and hard to adapt to. However, it is crucial we protect our workforce throughout this pandemic.

“The government support is definitely helping us to get through, and all our decisions are based on a risk assessment outlined by the Royal College as to what we can conduct, all of which our clients are being very understanding about. We are not doing any routine checks apart from vaccinations and emergency work only, so there is a lot less work being conducted throughout.

“The public are not allowed in the practice, at present – they must wait outside in their car for us to come to them and see what we can do. We take the pet away from the owner and treat them before bringing it back outside to prevent any cross contamination in the surgery.

“The phones are also really busy with our nurses and receptionists giving out advice so that people don’t have to leave the house unnecessarily. However, our policy remains that if a client is in any doubt about their pet, to bring it along to the surgery – provided they telephone first,” said Hans.

The equine department at Clyde Vets is also seeing emergency only surgery according to Andrew McDiarmid, equine director.

“The equine department has been the most affected by the outbreak as it is not classified as key work. We are running an emergency only service. Owners have been really understanding, and with all routine work stopped it's not easy. A risk assessment is completed before a vet arrives at a yard for the safety of both the owner and the vet. It is about taking each case by case as to what is classified as an emergency, but it is mainly the work we would be called out for out of hours. Anything that can wait has been postponed. Work at the hospital in Lanark has been limited to hospitalising only serious conditions such as colic and wounds.”

“Technology has also played a key part on our hands with conference videos and Whatsapp pictures and videos having enabled us to communicate advice over the phone to our clients, to help in some situations. Our reception and nursing team have been brilliant at triaging cases,” said Andrew.

The worry is the uncertainty of the whole situation and when the equine sector can get back to some form of normality.

“It is all the unknowns, yes equine could be hit badly in the foreseeable future but who knows, we just need to wait and see and hope that we can reopen soon, but the health of our clients and team is the primary focus just now,” said Andrew.

With social distancing likely to continue for a considerable time yet, vets have nevertheless become good at adapting to the new environment and ways of working.

Charles added: “Across the whole business we are all very aware of the impact of Covid-19, but this is the benefit of a mixed practice, each department can support each other through this. Hopefully when lockdown restrictions are eased, we can get these two businesses back on track as soon as possible.

“This is a good time for us on the farm side, the weather has been great, and it has been a busy spring once again. I feel blessed to be working in such a vital industry and feel valued providing a vital job to support such a crucial industry. The farming industry is full of key workers and we are blessed at being able to continue this service in such difficult times,” concluded Charles.